$100,000 Grant is Music to the Ears of Upper Darby Special Needs Kids!

Upper Darby, PA: On July 19th, the Schoener MusicMan Academy, a fast growing K-12 summer music initiative launched its newest program aimed at helping special needs students learn and grow through music. The MusicMan Butterfly Buddy Camp began its inaugural week by offering a fresh new approach in inclusive access to the arts, pairing each camper with a neurotypical peer or “buddy,” and focusing on building friendships and relationships through playing instruments, singing, and movement. This innovative community project was made possible by a generous $100,000 grant from the PA Department of Education. 

Butterfly Buddies Participant in 2021

This program is organized through a unique partnership of the MusicMan Academy of the Brad Schoener Memorial Music Fund, and the Royal Butterfly Special Needs Fund, which supports special needs students and families in the Upper Darby School District. The program was made possible through the support of State Senator Tim Kearney, State Representative Mike Zabel, and the Upper Darby School District. The funds for both programs are fiscally sponsored by the Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation. The MusicMan Butterfly Buddy Camp is a true collaboration of Upper Darby’s leading supporters of children and the arts.

This will be MusicMan Academy’s fifth program of the summer, and it is quickly becoming the township’s most prominent provider of music-based summer camps. Activities offered in this immersive one week camp include music therapy, dance therapy, instrumental & vocal instruction, and games for social skills. These programs combine to create an inclusive performance environment, nurture peer interaction, and provide an artistic experience that culminates in a final ‘celebration collaboration’ that brings families, buddies, and campers together with music. With the help of their buddies, campers formed friendships and bonded over a shared passion for music and the joy that it creates.

“Our mission has always been to find ways for our special kiddos to be included in activities”, remarked Jessie Johnson, president of the Royal Butterfly Special Needs Fund.  “Music is such a unifier and the Brad Schoener Music Camp is such a leader in the field.  It was a natural fit and we are so happy this has all come to fruition and very grateful to all those  who helped to make it happen”.

The MusicMan Butterfly Buddy Camp piloted at 50% capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Due to the wild success seen this year, the MusicMan Academy looks forward to operating this program at full strength in 2022. The initiative aims to grow the size and reach, allowing access to arts programs that are unique to Upper Darby.  Scholarships are available for any Upper Darby School District special needs student to attend for free.

This program could not have happened without the cooperation of the Upper Darby School District, and in particular without the help of Superintendent, Dr. Dan McGarry, Asst. Superintendent, Mr. Ed Marshaleck and Primos Elementary Principal, Bill Rogers. The Academy is also grateful for the continued support of Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation President, Terry Tracy and its Board of Directors.As Jen Schoener, Executive Director of  the Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation, and the Music Man Academy put it, “this program is so much more than just an arts experience — it’s about giving kids self-confidence, bringing comfort through companionship, and helping our campers find their ‘voice’ in the world.  It is wonderful to have the tremendous partnership of all these community leaders and that they understand the value of keeping creativity within reach of all Upper Darby children.”



Jen Schoener

Executive Director, Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation

[email protected]


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